Thursday, February 07, 2019

Bushfire Season -Fire Safety for visitors







Not a sunset - the glow of a fire to the south west  of Mt. Wellington. Poor picture quality is because of the smoke in the air

Rain on the roof. What a wonderful sound! You can hear the entire state breathing a sigh of relief from our overworked firefighters to the humblest velvet worm deep underground. For weeks acrid smoke has blanketed the city obscuring both river and mountain as firefighters have fought to contain around fifty forest fires on the Central Plateau, in the South West, around the Huon and on the West Coast. Fortunately, there have been no lives lost to date and only a few homes, but many people were forced to evacuate and it is still an enormous tragedy given the loss of wildlife, trees and rare and slow growing plants. Unlike most of Australia whose bush does recover eventually after fire, this is not the case in our World Heritage Areas where the fires have consumed almost 200,000 hectares. Read  Richard Flanagan's article in the Guardian to see why this matters.

Although wildfires are not uncommon in Australia - today marks the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in which 192 people lost their lives and over 2000 homes were lost and also is also two days after the anniversary of  Tasmania’s most devastating fire in 1967, they are becoming more frequent and more extensive. Hobart recorded its driest January on record this year and also its highest temperatures. With the Weather Bureau warning of more hot weather ahead – February usually being our hottest month, it’s a good time to be thinking about prevention and keeping safe.
While local people should be aware of fire plans in their area and what to do in the event of a fire, visitors are not usually as well informed.

In the first instance, National Parks and Wildlife personnel warn against going into remote areas  when there are bush fires about. While Emergency Services have evacuated walkers from time to time, it is not always possible when there’s a fire. Helicopters can’t see you or fly if there is smoke around and even if they could, it unnecessarily diverts resources from fire -fighting efforts and risks the lives of others. Some National Parks such as the upper levels of Mt. Field and the Hartz Mountains still remain closed to the public. (I’m so glad we visited Tahune recently as it is now a gutted wreck. It should however, be shown to people who don’t understand what Fire Bans are about). As always, check the Bureau of Meteorology weather site before you go anywhere and at this time of year, also the Fire Service and the Tasmania Police pages in the event of road closures. Always tell someone where you are going and don’t wait for an emergency alert to be announced if there are fires in your area. A wind change can quickly make it more dangerous and more difficult to leave. Here’s what the fire ratings mean:



Tune your car radio or log on to the ABC which has comprehensive coverage and shows both maps and alerts. It also shows which areas have High Fire Danger and what you can and can’t do.  Many municipalities also have these markers.  While both Fire Danger Ratings and Fire Bans are based on weather forecasts, the first tells you how likely it is that a fire can be controlled – high winds for instance will mean more rapid spread, the second limits human activities to prevent the occurrence of fires in the first place. Drought stricken areas or those with lots of dry vegetation on the ground are more likely to have Total Fire Bans.  Our National Parks have long been fuel stoves only areas because of the sensitivity of the vegetation.

On days of Total Fire Ban you can’t light a fire or even a barbecue in the open air unless it is of the gas type and then only if there is a 5m cleared area around it and it is at a home or picnic ground. You must also have a hose or at least 10 litres of water on hand. 

If you must travel in or out of a fire zone, be sure to cover your body and especially your head in wool or cotton as radiant heat can kill a long way from the fire front, even if no flames reach you. Falling ash and debris can also start spot fires hundreds of metres from the actual fire.


Should you become separated from family or friends during a bushfire, register with the Red Cross  to let them know where you are or to find those whom you have been unable to contact.
                                                                   
While most humans can now most likely return to their homes, the same cannot be said of the animals. Many will have to be humanely put down. Others will have to be nursed back to health over many months. Watch the film “AFTERMATH” (the Australian one, not the American movie)  on ABC iview  about the Victorian bushfires if you would like to know more, but be warned, some images are heartbreaking. You may also want to make a donation to Fur on Fire  

So is this the new normal as Richard Flanigan and others contend? Although the BBC remains equivocal as to whether these fires have anything to do with Climate Change, its own reporting on Europe and evidence from other countries around the world  does point to increased drying, higher temperatures and more severe fires in temperate zones.  California also had its hottest summer on record and record wildfires As heat waves,  extreme weather eventsmelting ice sheets and fish kills continue to make the news, it becomes much harder to deny.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Meet the Animals - Getting up close and personal at Zoodoo



Hello from the Zebras at Zoodoo - baby in the brown coat was born in Tasmania


Let me say at the outset that I have mixed feelings about zoos. On the one hand I’m sure animals would prefer to be in the wild, following their own inclinations and schedules rather than being gawped at by humans. On the other hand, as humans take over more and more of the earth’s living space and modify the ecosystems of other species with development and climate change, zoos may be the last places where animals, especially the larger ones, can find refuge and possibly some protection from extinction.  There are already many breeding programs in zoos around the world which offer hope to species such as pandas which are no longer able to breed in the wild. They also add to our knowledge about animals which may contribute to the survival not only of those injured as a result of fire or road trauma, but even whole species such as our own Tassie Devil, when they fall victim to devastating diseases. 

"Sooo soft!" Although the girls have seen many wallabies, hand feeding them is still a thrill, so is seeing all the white ones
 

Much as I prefer to see them in their natural environment it is rather amazing being able to see exotic animals in real life, not just on television or in books.  Not all of us can get to the Serengeti or the Amazon. One hopes it leads to greater respect for both the animals and the sheer diversity of nature. 

Of course there are zoos and there are zoos. No one wants to see those like a bear ‘sanctuary’ I saw in Japan, where the bears were crammed shoulder to shoulder in a concrete bunker, but then again, they may have been rescued from a  worse fate as bile bears, which are tortured for their entire miserable lives. 
The good news is that more and more Wildlife parks and zoos are moving towards the concept pioneered by Tasmanian Devil Unzoo.  Instead of the animals being imprisoned for the amusement of humans, traditional enclosures are removed or hidden so animals can interact on their own terms giving the animals “…more freedom, dignity and self determination,” says their website. Yep. Seems like a good plan. Cage the people for their own protection and let the animals run free.

A big Hi! from Huey the camel


I haven’t been to that wildlife park yet, but with some trepidation and two young children in tow, I visited Zoodoo Zoo, a small wildlife park near Brighton, not far from home.  


It was around 30° C when we arrived and the aroma hit us as soon as we walked in the door. You don’t get that in picture books! There didn’t seem to be much in the way of green grass or shade and where there was a bit of shelter it was mostly under corrugated iron which exuded great waves of heat. Nevertheless, at least the animals had plenty of space and the girls delighted in feeding the kangaroos and feeling the softness of their fur. There were several white wallabies in this mob which I have otherwise only seen and heard of on Bruny Island. White animals do not generally survive well in the wild. The children also enjoyed seeing the antics of a tiny devil, the monkeys and one tiny meerkat. Most other animals had the good sense to hide in whatever shade they could find as is the custom among most of our native animals. They hide (or aestivate) during the heat of the day and mostly graze at dusk, which is why this is the time to be most careful on our roads. Many of the animals here are ‘rescues’ after unfortunate encounters with cars.

Look closely and you may spot a baby Tasmanian Devil
 

After about an hour, one of the safari trucks returned - the first one was chock- a -block with visitors, and took us to the far reaches of the zoo where the larger animals are kept. We were each given a small beaker of appropriate food and allowed to feed the emus which stuck inquisitive beaks inside the truck. Then it was on to the zebras which I was very surprised to see. How lovely they looked in their smart black and white coats - just like in the picture books, but perhaps a bit smaller than I had imagined.  The youngest, which still had its brown coat was born here - a first for Tasmania. Its coat will also turn black when it is a little older. Next up, we visited the camels which looked most regal as they sauntered up to the truck. Their story is rather sad. Once the pack -horses of the inland, they were abandoned to their fate once cars and roads came along, and continued to breed. With an estimated 1.2 million wild camels  now roaming the inland, they are regarded  as vermin which must be eradicated because their grazing does much damage to what little vegetation there is, hastening desertification. 

(The same has happened with horses as well with an estimated 400,000 brumbies roaming the interior and the highlands).


We visit bird enclosures and reptile pens and then wait around in a hot tunnel for lion feeding for which the whole park seems to have turned out. Eventually the girls get their turn holding out the long tongs with a lump of meat on the end to a hungry lion. After all the waiting it’s over in a snap and the girls are hot, tired and hungry. The lion looked faintly annoyed too.

There's a tiny meerkat sheltering under the palm and another in the hollow log


 
After a long wait the female lion comes for lunch

We decided not to wait for the reptile -handling and the devil talk though these were obviously of great interest to international visitors. Instead, the little girls were just as thrilled at being allowed to pet domesticated animals which were housed near the front door – a couple of Shetland ponies, the cutest baby rabbits and guinea pigs, and two little baby goats, while poor Mama goat panted visibly in the heat. I felt much the same, but the girls still had enough energy for a quick play on the bouncing castle.

Too cute - Baby rabbits and tiny guinea pigs were a big hit


Despite my initial misgivings and wishing there had been more shade, the animals did look well cared for. For urban dwellers and those who do not have time to see animals in the wild, this is an easy place to meet and greet them without having to go too far afield. We do see lots of wildlife when we are out and about, but it was a thrill for the girls to be able to touch and feed animals and to see some of the more exotic ones at close range. Babies were a big hit, regardless of species. 


If you are visiting Tasmania, there are several other wildlife parks and sanctuaries, though I have not visited many of these:


South

Zoodoo – Richmond – native and exotic animals, small personable
Boronong Wildlife Park – Brighton Specialises in Native Animals and rescue operations

Tasmanian Devil Unzoo – Taranna, Tasman Peninsula – Original Devil Park begun in 1978, also has quolls, possums, birds of prey, hand feeding of kangaroos etc. in naturalistic settings 

North
Tasmania Zoo - Just outside Launceston – over 100 hundred rare, native and exotic species, especially primates in a large parklike acreage

The Platypus House –Beauty Point, West Tamar – Monotremes – platypus and echidna


North – Central
Wings Wildlife Park – Gunn’s Plains – exotic animals, farm animals, reptiles and native animals and birds

Trowanna Wildlife Park – near Mole Creek – Native animals especially wombats, devils and quolls

Devil’s Cradle Devil Sanctuary– Near Cradle Mountain- specializes in Tasmanian Devils and other carnivores such as Quolls. I hadn’t heard of this one before

East
Natureworld – near Bicheno – Parklike setting, Tasmanian Devil Conservation Program, reptiles, seabirds in a parklike setting

Can’t make it to Tasmania? No problem. See the OzAnimals site for other places around Australia where you can see our amazing fauna.





Sunday, January 13, 2019

Little known hazards on our beaches – 2. Jellyfish



Among other things which can maim or kill, or at least cause excruciating pain, jellyfish deserve a mention too. Although they have always been around, they have been especially prolific this year.  The Gold Coast has been plagued by Blue Bottles and Fraser Island has had an invasion of Irukandji jellyfish.  The box jelly fish known as Stingers which used be seen mainly around the Northern Territory in the Wet Season from November to May, have now extended their range down the east coast as far as the Whitsundays and linger around until July. Warmer ocean temperatures are blamed for this. See the National Geographic for more including excellent pictures

Blue Bottles

I’ll start with the Portuguese Man-o’-War or Blue Bottle (Physalia utriculus) which has been in the news lately because thousands have washed up on the shores around South East Queensland in recent weeks with over 3,000 people being treated for stings on one weekend. 

They are easy to recognise by their blue colour and the fact that they congregate in large numbers. They are also found in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. While not as large or as venomous as  their Atlantic cousins, people can have an allergic reaction and their sting can still be very painful.  Here’s what to do if you are stung:



The Box Jellyfish

The Box Jellyfish is large and clear and comes in around 29 varieties. It is far more deadly because its toxins affect the heart, the nervous system and respiration, and the pain can be so severe that victims may go into shock and drown. According to jellyfish expert, Jamie Seymour, Associate Professor of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University, being in contact with two or more metres of tentacles will kill a person in two minutes. While popular beaches around Darwin often have special stinger nets in the season, this doesn't prevent some tentacles getting through. As the box jelly fish has more than sixty tentacles which can be 3- 4 metres in length, the only real defence is an all- over Lycra body suit, called a Stinger Suit, which are often supplied by dive companies and the like. While not particularly fetching, they will also keep out Ultra Violet radiation which poses the risk of skin cancer and is most likely a fairly effective repellent against romantic encounters as well. As far as stingers go, wet suits will work too.

 In the first instance, remove tentacles and douse with vinegar for at least 20 minutes and be prepared to apply CPR* if necessary. Call emergency services and bandage firmly - not so tightly as to cut off circulation -as for snake bite, and keep the victim still and calm until help arrives.
* CPR - Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation

NB: Coastal rivers are not necessarily free of stingers either according to the Australian Museum.

Irukadnji Jellyfish

Irukandji  a smaller type of box jelly fish are also on the move. While the most common box jelly fish is large and easily seen, the Irukandji  Jellyfish (Carukua barnesi ) found in tropical waters from  Bundaberg in Queensland to Geraldton in Western Australia, is  a mere 2cm in size but still packs a deadly punch. Not only is it difficult to see in the water, but  the effects of its sting generally do not become apparent until some time after contact. This means that swimmers often do not realise that they have been stung, by which time it may be too late to save them. Typical symptoms which can appear anywhere between 5-45 minutes afterwards include - severe headache or backache, acute pain in the muscles, chest or stomach, vomiting and nausea, profuse sweating, rapid heartrate and high blood pressure and there may even be psychological symptoms such  as anxiety or “feelings of impending doom.”

Treatment is much the same as for other types of box jellyfish. Here’s the advice from the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Service though note that the use of vinegar is coming under challenge and may not be the answer in all cases. See the full article by North Queensland Tourism here:
  • Wear protective clothing. A full-length Lycra suit reduces the risk of stings by 75%.
  • Carry vinegar when you go swimming or boating to apply to stings
  • Saturate even minor stings with vinegar
  • Don’t go back in the water until you’re sure you are not ill (wait 30 minutes)
  • If in doubt or in distress, seek help ASAP. You may need to go to the hospital for a more thorough check and, if required, medical treatment.